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I AM A PEBBLE, LIFE IS A RIPPLE

I am a pebble. Drop me in the water and ripples spread along the surface, marking where my pebble began its descent. Then the water closes. The ripples vanish, leaving nothing to show where the pebble sank.

Unlike the pebble, I plan to resurface. I’m just not sure when, exactly.

75-Ripples-NK

We all sign up for stuff with full intentions of fulfilling our obligations. But sometimes — often — life gets in the way of art. Shit happens. We have to adjust. Commitments and projects are set aside for later or for others to do. A lot of stuff I planned will have to go on without me for a while.

I like to think you will miss me, but I know the Internet is rich with bloggers, websites and news. It moves on. I’m just a pebble on that huge beach strewn with millions of rocks.

I follow a lot of you. I don’t always comment, but when you allow it, I leave a “like” as a calling card. Those of you who don’t accept “likes” do yourselves a disservice. Many folks — including me — don’t always have something to say. It doesn’t mean we didn’t like your post. Sometimes I just don’t have anything valuable to contribute. Other times, there are hundreds of comments in place which have covered the bases. I’m not going to add anything to the dialogue. If you let me click “like,” you will know I was there. If you don’t … well … your loss.

Now, about my site. Exactly how I’m going to keep it going while I’m recuperating, I don’t quite know. I know part of it. Garry will write more, Rich will pitch in more too. I’ll try to create some posts to go up when I’m not up to doing new material. I hope you won’t stop coming by. Rich and Garry are great writers and deserve your support, especially since they are supporting me on top of their other obligations.

For the blogs I follow,  everyone will be set to “no mail” until I’m well enough to deal with it. I’m afraid my inbox will explode otherwise. It will be bad enough with only bills and junk mail. When I think about how much could pile up in weeks and months … well, formidable doesn’t cover it. I will also set my scheduled posts to “no comment. “

You will still be able to leave a “Like” because I love knowing you visited. All of this is intended to keep my email from overwhelming Garry, who is going to have a lot on his plate. When I get back on the computer, I don’t want to be faced with thousands of notifications. I’ll just delete them en masse anyway. That’s what happens when I get back from vacations, too, and I always lose stuff I would I wanted. Don’t take it personally. It has everything to do with me and nothing to do with anyone else.

I have turned off a lot of stuff already and I don’t have time to do much visiting. I’m sorry about that. It’s become so much a part of my routine to go and see what all of you are doing … but there’s no more time.

I’ll turn off the rest shortly. I need to use what time I have to get things in order. There’s lots still to do. The time has come to get my house in order, literally and figuratively.

If this is leaving you puzzled because you missed part one of my ongoing medical drama, you can click the link and read THE HEART SURGERY UPDATE

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BIRTHDAYS AND OTHER DAYS OF JOY

Daily Prompt: Shake it Up

by Krista on February 24, 2014
You’re 12 years old. It’s your birthday. Write for ten minutes on that memory. GO.

Photographers, artists, poets: show us RECKLESS.

- – - – -

And this is as reckless as we ever got. Reckless enough!

And this is as reckless as we ever got. Reckless enough!

Sorry. No pictures of youthful birthday parties. Never had one. I don’t even remember either of my siblings having a birthday party except for my sister when she was … like five maybe? Otherwise, there wasn’t much celebrating in my house. Later, when my life was my own, we had some good times.

And around we go again. I rode the beast with my granddaughter 7 times that day, twice in the morning and five more times in the afternoon. I think she was ready to keep going forever and maybe, she had the right idea.

And around we go again. I rode the beast with my granddaughter 7 times that day, twice in the morning and five more times in the afternoon. I think she was ready to keep going forever and maybe, she had the right idea.

Garry threw me a surprise party on my 60th birthday … and we went to New Orleans for my 50th. I took him to Cooperstown for his 50th. Childhood was a long time ago and stuff that happened to me as a grownup somehow seems more relevant at this age and stage. Twelve, as I vaguely recall, was not one of my vintage years. Awkward, a mouth full of braces, short, half woman, mostly kid, frizzy hair and a general look of dazed confusion at a world that didn’t seem to have anything to do with me.

It got better. Then worse. Then better again. That’s life. Much like the roller coasters I dearly love, life has its ups and downs. The downs are terrifying, the ups give you a chance to catch your breath before you plunge down the next drop. When you pull into the station, laughing and gasping, what do you say? I say: “Let’s do it again!”

This was one of my "am I going to live to see another birthday" years. I almost didn't.

My 60th birthday. This was one of the “am I going to live to see another birthday” years. I almost didn’t.

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A MESSAGE FROM YOUR SPONSOR

Daily Prompt: Never Gonna Give You Up

You. We know *you* are vice-free, dear Daily Post reader. But, or perhaps we should say, “butt,” others around you and in your life are riddled with vices: they smoke; they eat too much celery; they hog the covers; they can’t keep their hands out of the office candy bowl. Which vice or bad habit can you simply not abide in others? Photographers, artists, poets: show us VICE.

- – - – -

When I gave up smoking, I got worried. I had just given up my last true vice. If I had to do any negotiating with God (“Hey, God? If you get me out of this mess I’ll give up … “) I had nothing to work with. I drink coffee, but that’s not a vice. That’s food. I don’t drink alcohol and I’m not addicted to drugs (dependency on blood pressure medication does not count).

Laundry

We’ve been living in a hive, three generations of family packed together. Not as tight as sardines, but tight enough. Each of us has learned to (1) Not sweat the small stuff, small being loosely defined as “not worth fighting about,” (2) To be extremely wary of casting stones, since they have a nasty habit of returning — boomerang-like — to whack you solidly on the skull

Just ONE little thing. Please, please don’t just leave your laundry in the washer and dryer. Finish your laundry and leave the machines clear for those others of us who need to cleanse our own washables. Thank you. We really appreciate your attention to this matter.

This has been a message from your sponsor. We now resume the regularly scheduled program, already in progress.

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WITH OR WITHOUT YOU: IT DOESN’T ALWAYS WORK OUT THE WAY YOU EXPECT

Daily Prompt: With or Without You

I told Garry I was going to buy a place to live, with or without him. I had just gotten the proceeds of my Israeli divorce. It wasn’t a huge amount of money and I wanted it invested in something solid.

75-BricksBoston

Garry said he wasn’t ready. I bought the place anyway. It was the wrong place, especially when, a few months later, he was ready — and I’d already spent the money.

So much for ultimatums. It took years to off-load the original unsuitable condo I bought.

Ultimatums can backfire!

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DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME – WE DUCK FOR METEORITES

Daily Prompt: Don’t You Forget About Me

Anybody can die of anything anytime. It’s a fact. You, me, anyone — we could step into the street and get hit by a bus, be struck by lightning, fall down and break our skulls. We could be tooling along on the way to the grocery store and get broadsided by a truck. Life has no guarantees, not for anyone of any age,

However, for some of us, the likelihood of demise sooner rather than later is statistically higher. The longer you live, the closer comes your last day on Earth. Unless you are my ex-mother-in-law. She will celebrate her 104th birthday the day after tomorrow. Imagine 104. Her son’s been gone for 25 years, but a rumor is spreading that Grandma K is eternal and may have beaten the odds. She is a special case, the only person I’ve known who has lived to be that old. For the past decade (more?) everyone has been saying “Well, you know Grandma K is really getting up there. We’d better not skip a visit’cause it might be the last …”

NOTE: Grandma Kraus died today, February 18, 2014 — one day short of her 104th birthday. Rest in peace, Grandma. You were one amazing lady.

insane doctor cartoon

Me, I’m another story. I keep almost dying, then not. Divine intervention is a genuine possibility. I think it has already happened.  Twice. My question is … “Hey, Mr. Biggest of the Big … just in case things go awry, how about a quick visit to fix things? We haven’t chatted in a while and I’ll be available for an exchange of thoughts on eternity right around the beginning of March. Do you need my address? Email? Website? Just asking.”

Here’s my take on it.

On March 6th … 20 days from now … I am going to be hit by a meteorite. Unlike the usual victims of meteorite incidents, I know the exact date of the hit. Everyone assures me meteorite repair technology has really come a long way and while it is wise to not get whacked by an extra-terrestrial missile, there are times you can’t avoid it. I know when I’m going to be hit, splat, splotch, bonk. And all I can say about that is OUCH.

Unlike most of the people writing this, I’m trusting all those kindly folks who assure me I needn’t worry (not worry? Really?) because I’ll be just fine (you think?). They must know something I don’t know because me? I’m worried. I am going with the working hypothesis I will survive and my disappearance will be temporary. I will resurface, hopefully properly repaired.

Please do remember me. I’ll be gone for a while … weeks at least. If all goes well, I’ll be back. Slowly, then more vigorously.

I hope you’ll remember I used to write and take pictures. I hope you will come ’round to see what cool new stuff Garry and Rich are writing … and all the stuff I’ve scheduled while I’m gone. I won’t be able to respond to comments, but I’ll think of you often. You have become friends, even though most of us have never physically been in the same place at the same time.

Starting March 5th, I’ll be in at Beth Israel in Brookline. First in the ICCU, then the regular cardiac ward. Then home for 10 to 12 weeks or when I can climb the steps — whichever comes first. Official menu: Septal myectomy and mitral valve repair, with a cardiac catheterization before surgery. Assuming surgery goes well and without significant complications, I should be able to write when I get home. Writing is something I can (usually) do even when I’m not up to snuff.

If by some dreadful turn of events, I don’t return, remember me kindly. That I was funny, passionate, and tried to help where I could. Even when I went wrong, I meant well.

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MY FAIR LADY – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Weekly Writing Challenge: My Funny Valentine?

My Mother had a strange smile on her face as she spoke to me. It would be our last real conversation before dementia began closing the windows and doors on life as she knew it.

“Treat your wife decently”, Mom looked at me with her eyes growing larger for emphasis, “Marilyn is a good woman. Make sure you love her. Tell her you love her. SHOW your love!”. It was surprising because Mom never seemed to like Marilyn, never showed any real affection for the woman who’d married her oldest son 15 years earlier. Hey, I was 48 when I finally decided to try marriage for the first time. Mom wasn’t exactly losing her baby boy. But the divide was always there between my Mother and Marilyn until that last conversation. Too bad Marilyn couldn’t have heard Mom. Too bad because Marilyn has been part of my life for more than half a century.

Marilyn 1970

Marilyn and I first met as college students in 1964 when we and our world were young. We worked at the college radio station, seemingly a haven for shy, odd and eccentric people bound together by a passion for creativity.

I was shy. Very shy. I smoked a pipe and tried to look thoughtful. Marilyn didn’t seem shy. She was always talking, always full of life and laughter. She also wore her sweaters very well. I don’t know why but I found talking to Marilyn relatively comfortable. She put me at ease. I couldn’t do that with most of the other coeds I knew. But Marilyn was my best friend’s girl friend and very soon his wife. Somehow, our friendship continued and I became Godfather to Owen, Marilyn and best friend, Jeff’s son.

Matter of fact, the newborn son was named Owen Garry in my honor. Humbling stuff. Our relationships would soon change but remain in many ways. Marilyn would be the constant.

Fast forward across several decades. I pursued a career as a TV news reporter with a 31 year run in Boston. I was the free wheeling bachelor from central casting. The only constant was my relationship with Marilyn which had blossomed from friendship into something deeper. We had a frequent flier relationship between Boston and New York. The names and faces changed in my other relationships but there was always Marilyn.

Sometimes it got pretty complicated. Things got more interesting as Marilyn’s first marriage ended. She and Owen moved to Israel to find their roots which included marriage number two for Marilyn. Geography didn’t hamper my feelings for Marilyn. The friendship grew stronger through letters and phone calls. The names and faces kept changing in my life but Marilyn was my life line even if I didn’t realize it. As a regional “celebrity”, I popped up in tabloid gossip columns a lot. I was the carefree guy who would never settle down. Never say never.

I’m still not sure how it happened. (Editor’s Note: Yes you are. Liar, liar pants on fire!) Marilyn and Owen had returned to the States. Marriage number two was history for Marilyn. The revolving door in my bachelor apartment was slowing down. Marilyn was becoming my constant companion. There was a conversation one night about marriage. Apparently I said “yes”. It would be the best thing I’ve ever done in my life!!

96-CoupleCasual007-1Marilyn and I are now a year away from our silver anniversary. It’s hard to believe. It’s difficult to believe because of all the life and death medical crises Marilyn has endured over the past dozen years. As I write, Marilyn is staring down yet another potentially life threatening medical crisis. It might be trite to say she is a trouper. But Marilyn really is a soldier even as she grapples with fear of how I and the rest of the family will survive while she yields to the specialists and surgeons.

Marilyn has always put everyone else ahead of herself. Now, it’s her turn!! Marilyn has seen me through some very difficult times that I’ll never be able to repay. As a guy who has had a life time love affair with classic movies, I don’t think I’ve ever really appreciated the best leading lady one could ask for in real life.

This is not the end. I am hoping, wishing and praying that this latest chapter will end in relief, smiles and laughter for Marilyn, My Fair Lady.

THEY SANG AT OUR WEDDING

Daily Prompt: The Show must go on

posted in Challenges by Pat Gerber-Relf
If you were involved in a movie, would you rather be the director, the producer, or the lead performer? (Note: you can’t be the writer!). Photographers, artists, poets: show us CELEBRITY.

Garry's Emmy -- and there are more. Celebrity? Yup.

Garry’s Emmy — and there are more. Celebrity? Yup.

When it came time for Garry and I to get married, we weren’t thinking about music. Not much, anyway.

I figured we’d do something simple, but of course, Garry’s brother is The Maestro. Dr. Anton Armstrong, internationally renowned conductor of St. Olaf’s Choir. He showed actual horror at my suggestion we go with Mendelssohn. He made it clear this was unacceptable. He was not going to stand by and let us have inferior music.

Okay, then.

Shortly thereafter, we found ourselves hiring a bagpiper, searching out music we liked and which would meet with The Professor’s approval.  Drafting vocally blessed friends — of whom it turns out I have a surprisingly large number — to sing at our wedding. It got a little complicated since one of them was my maid of honor — okay, matron of honor her being married and all. But we overcame the complexities of bouquets, microphones, speaker systems and acoustical anomalies and came up with what was deemed by all interested parties, an appropriate playbill.

Opening with Amazing Grace, starting with the bagpipe, then a segue to my friend Kit who had to keep from crying, but once she got that under control, it was all good. Fade to a duet, Kit and Anton — a folk arrangement of a bible verse and I dont’ remember the name — but I have the video.

Not the original wedding, but our second vow renewal. In the backyard, by the unfinished teepee. Seven years ago.

Not the original wedding. Our second vow renewal. In the backyard, by the unfinished teepee. Seven years ago. Taken by somebody — don’t remember who. We should have had a better camera available. Don’t know why I didn’t think of it!

Then, Mary handed off the bouquet and sang “Follow Me”, a lovely version of a favorite — and appropriate — song best known when sung by John Denver who was unable attend the wedding.

Garry and my show business roots began to show. While everyone else seems to concentrate on the reception, we really got into the “show,” that is to say The Wedding. That was our main event. For the reception, we figured if we had a DJ, dinner and a dance floor, everyone could hang out and be happy.

It seemed like a gigantic wedding to me but it was fewer than 100 people. I would have been happy with City Hall. Garry was in his prime and we could have gotten the Mayor to marry us. I would have thrown a bouquet and we’d have been on our way to Ireland. But nope. Garry wanted A Wedding. THE WEDDING. He’d waited a long time and if he was going to get married, he was going to do it right.

Which meant I was going to do it right. He was much too busy to do more than issue marching orders and tell me who I had to invite. Men and weddings. Clueless beings. That was when I realized if I could survive the wedding, the marriage was going to be a piece of cake. Wedding cake. I had to order one of those, too.

We had written vows and Garry memorized his, just like he memorized what he had to say in front of the TV camera every night. Well, he didn’t have to get his hair done, make sure everyone was where they were supposed to be, that the food showed up, the piper was piping, the flowers flowering. I forget my vows. Totally. Went completely blank. Stood there with flies coming out of my mouth.

Never mind. We moved on and got married.

Bonnie, our Scottish connection

Bonnie, our Scottish connection

Yay! Bouquets! Cheers! Confetti (raw rice makes the birds sick)! More music! Bring back the piper!Marching out to “Scotland the Brave” though neither of us is a bit Scottish. We have Bonnie, the Scottish terrier. It should count for something.

I have almost all of it on DVD. It was originally on videotape, but it disintegrated and we barely saved it onto disk. A lot of it wouldn’t play, much less transfer. I was so sorry we lost some of my favorite moments. Most of the soundtrack survived, but the visual part on  tape was badly damaged. Time ate it. A reminder for anyone who has important stuff still on tape to move it to a less fragile medium ASAP.

It was a great wedding. Sorry you weren’t there (unless you were, in which case — wasn’t it a cool wedding?). We’ve had a couple more since then, just for fun.

Maybe we’ll have one more, when year 25 years rolls around. Definitely. One more wedding to go. A year and a half from now.

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WRAPPED IN PAPER

Weekly Writing Challenge: 1,000 Words - Contemplation

contemplation

I am not by nature contemplative. All my ideas become pictures or stories … even this one. Yet the other day, I got to contemplating how I express love. Why so many people don’t understand my way of showing it. Why my granddaughter has a zillion dolls and too many cameras, my husband has a ton of stuff he doesn’t need and my best friend has half an antique pottery collection (I have the other half).

Blame it on my upbringing, the odd traditions of my mother’s family. Basically, we say “I love you” by giving each other stuff. All kinds of stuff. Art, furniture, gadgets, clothing, books, whatnots. We were never a touchy, feely, huggy family nor verbally effusive. We rarely said “I love you.” I’ve had to learn to say the words. I’d still rather buy you a present.

Over the course of life with my family, I got clothing (used and new), pottery (ugly and uglier), jewelry (not nearly enough), carpets, paintings (“No, really, it’s okay … you keep it … please!”) and whatever else came to hand. If someone had a sudden unplanned attack of the warm fuzzies, they might give you the nearest small object — ashtray, silver cigarette holder (from my mother, who never smoked), old souvenirs from Coney Island, empty cigar boxes (Uncle Abe). No wrappings or bows. Spontaneity precluded amenities. It was my family’s version of a hug.

One time, my dearest favorite-est aunt gave me the coat off her back while crossing 6th Avenue in Manhattan. It was mid-winter in New York and definitely not a good time to be coat-less, but I had said I liked it and she needed to express her love right then and there.

“Please, Aunt Kate,” I cried, hoping the people swirling around us didn’t call the cops, likely thinking I was mugging my elderly aunt. “I am wearing a coat. You gave me this coat years ago. I wear it all the time. I love it.”

Which only made it worse. “That old thing,” she cried. “You need a new coat.”

“When we get home,” I promised. “You can give me the coat at home.” And she did. And I wore it. For many years until it fell apart. I knew I was wearing her love and it kept me very warm.

When I lived in Jerusalem, I bought a box of odds and ends from a little shop on Bethlehem Road. They had been cleaning out their back room. They said “We don’t know what’s in here, but you can have it for five dollars.”

I took the box home and began to sort through it. I found tiny carved ivory elephants, amber beads, buttons from dress shirts, old agora and a green, crusted thing I was going to throw out until a friend said “Hey, that’s an old coin.”

I stopped. Looked at it. “How can you tell?” I asked.

“That’s what old coins look like,” she said. “Soak it in lemon juice for a few days and see what happens.”

I soaked it for two weeks and it still looked like a piece of green crusty metal. Finally, using a toothbrush and copper cleaner, I extracted an ancient bronze coin, circa 77, the second year of the First Jewish War Against the Romans. The date was on the coin in old Hebrew script.

I had the coin appraised at the Rockefeller Museum. It was the real deal, but not worth a fortune – maybe a couple of hundred dollars, if I could find a buyer. So I turned it into pendant and wore it on a ribbon. When my mother came to visit, she admired it. Of course I gave it to her. When my mother died, my father gave it back to me, but it disappeared. I suppose it will turn up someday in another box of odds and ends and become someone else’s treasure.

You had to be careful in my family. If you admired something you were going to own it. There was a hideous pottery owl that looked like its eyes were bleeding. Chartreuse with scarlet eye sockets. I was caught staring –and had to say something. It was a masterpiece of sculpting, but the overall effect was gruesome. So I said: “It’s … really interesting.” It was, in a ghastly way.

“It’s yours!” cried my mother. I detected a note of triumph. I still harbor a suspicion she had gotten it from some other family member and was just waiting for the chance to move it along. Tag, I was it.

The ultimate example of family love en passant were the dishes. It was my fault. I started it. I bought them from a barn on a back road in Connecticut in the early 1970s. I was poking around a room full of pottery and turned one over. It was Spode. The markings looked to be late 19th century. Eighty-six pieces, including a chipped sugar bowl and eight demitasse cups minus saucers … and a set of saucers without cups. In pretty good condition, all for $30.

They were old and delicate, so I never used them fearing they’d get broken. They stayed in the closet and gathered dust. Years passed.

One day, my mother admired them. Faster than you can say “Here, they’re yours,” I had those dishes packed and in her car. She loved them, but they were old and, it turned out, valuable. So she put them away and never used them. One day, my Aunt Kate admired them, so Mom gave them to her. Kate then gave my mother her set of bone china for 12 which she didn’t need any more, the days of big dinner parties being long over.

My mother didn’t need such a large set either, so she gave Aunt Kate’s set of 12 to my brother, who gave my mother his china for six. My mother gave my brother’s dishes to me while Aunt Kate traded my Spode for Aunt Pearl’s old china. Aunt Pearl packed the Spode away in a safe place, because they were old and valuable and she didn’t want to break them.

Twenty years later, Garry and I went to visit Aunt Pearl. She had the Spode, carefully wrapped and boxed. She gave it back to me and we took it home. She had saved them all those years. Of course, I never used them. I eventually gave them to Owen and Sandy who had the sense to sell them. They knew they would never use them and neither would anyone else.

Love can be wrapped in paper and carefully protected. There is love. There are dishes. And there are memories of my family, carefully stored, ready to be given away as a sign of love.

THE 12-FOOT TEEPEE – A REVIEW I DIDN’T WRITE MYSELF

Obviously I didn’t write this.I would be embarrassed to say this much nice stuff about me, but I have to admit I’m kind of delighted. In the midst of the craziness of my life, all of a sudden I’m getting wonderful reviews of the book I’d pretty much given up on. It never went anywhere. I’m not even sure I know how to find my publication website … or have any idea what my password is. Or anything.

If nothing else, it’s humbling that there can be such a huge disparity between my perception of the book I wrote and other people’s view of it. That I might not be the best judge of my work goes without saying … but to be 180 degrees out of alignment forces me to wonder what else I’m completely wrong about.

teepee book shelf

In any case, I have taken the liberty of copying and pasting the review here because I have no idea how one reblogs a review that isn’t on a blog. And this is on the Canadian Amazon site, making it even more inaccessible. The title of the book is also a live link to the source, so please visit that site too. The author deserves your support.

I’m beyond grateful for this review. I’m touched and encouraged. This is a difficult time for me, for obvious reasons. Having something so nice happen right now makes me feel (sorry about the pun) heartened.

THE 12-FOOT TEEPEE

5.0 out of 5 stars

The fascinating construction of a life Jan. 30 2014

By Jiibo Dyallo

Format: Kindle Edition | Amazon Verified Purchase

Marilyn Armstrong is a widely read blogger on WordPress, and that’s how I became aware of her. I thought, ‘anyone who writes this well must have written at least one book.’ The 12-foot Teepee, in fact, is the name of the book and the basis of the blog’s URL, teepee12 dot com.

Tempus fugit, especially for daily bloggers. Marilyn tells me, in correspondence, that she’s no longer quite the same person as the one who wrote the book. As a former resident of Jerusalem, though, she says she once lived near a place where archaeologists found “a Canaanite temple, on top of which (pillar on pillar) stood a Greek temple. On top of which (pillar on pillar) was a Roman temple. On top of which was – you guessed it, pillar on pillar – a synagogue.” No doubt today’s Marilyn stands pillar on pillar on the one who wrote this book, and I think that that keeps the book current. A life contains its own archaeology, and what is an autobiography (as I assume this is, in essence) if not a tell?

Protagonist ‘Maggie,’ as a child, was sexually abused by her father. That revelation is how the book begins. I worked for an LGBT newspaper in the 1980s and kept current on feminist and lesbian literature during the period when the magnitude of familial incest was first being disclosed to the world. I’ve read many dozens of accounts – brief, elongated, literary, plain, agonized, detached – by people who endured this experience. Also, I’ve read numerous complex bestsellers embedding the theme, such as Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin and Anne-Marie MacDonald’s Fall on Your Knees. I noticed right away that Marilyn was somehow overcoming the saturation factor and writing highly readable text. Perhaps it was her style of writing – plainspoken enough to be nodded at by Hemingway, yet subtly full of craft. Her approach was fresh, and witty at appropriate moments. Perhaps there was some engaging mystery, too, in the enigma of her father as an inconspicuously, but almost incomprehensibly, evil man. I’m not sure if I would even have credited Marilyn with restraining herself from exaggeration if I hadn’t read M. Scott Peck’s monograph on such folk, People of the Lie. I knew that such individuals really do exist. In any case, Marilyn’s way of telling the tale with judicious truth but without a show of anguish, and without the jargon that is now often used in such accounts, made the difficult events completely readable.

The book then progressed through subtly interwoven anecdotes to the unveiling of related tales: the construction of a knock-off Sioux-style teepee as a project for self-healing and for spending quality time with a lively granddaughter; the concurrent battle with spinal problems and surgeons of greater and lesser competence; and the challenges of new-found poverty for Massachusetts people caught up in the tech bust of the 1990s. This all sounds daunting, not to mention rather random and terribly personal, but Marilyn makes it as vivid and coherent a piece of writing as you will find anywhere. She wins your heart. The feeling that you want things to go well for her (I don’t know her personally at all apart from a couple of emails back and forth among fellow bloggers) turns out to be a waterslide of suspense that runs you right through the book from beginning to end. She also integrates a spiritual journey from secular Judaism into Christianity that is neither dwelt upon nor glossed over – it has its time and place in the story – and it also arouses interest – regardless, I should think, of the personal persuasion of the reader. The bottom line, though, is that Marilyn is a writer who can captivate you with a tale of how her son pieced together PVC pipe sections to make wobbly teepee poles. I can’t imagine what topic she couldn’t make interesting.

I think that this book deserves more attention than it’s had. Marilyn is not sure that it does – she says in her email that she has, to some extent, returned to religious skepticism in recent years. Life has gone on. The tell has mounded up further. Where a church once stood in her psyche, a big community teepee for comparative religion and degrees of religious belief now stands, pole on pillar. Its architecture is newer than the book.

If you have a sense of discovery, though, you still need to know how it got there, and this book is the only dig that’s been done.

THE HEART SURGERY UPDATE

The heart surgery I’ve been anticipating is no longer an abstract “someday.” It’s now got a date and a name. A place, a surgeon. A schedule.

I could have done it as early as next week but I’ve got a lot of things to take care of. Taxes to file, bills to schedule, maybe a few stories to write. I need to settle my brain because I’m not in a good place. Much too scared to think straight.

Heart broken

I’m not so much afraid of dying, though that is certainly a possibility. There’s nothing minor about this set of procedures. Septal myectomy and mitral valve repair, with a cardiac catheterization before the surgeries, just for fun. I really do know how to have a good time.

Starting March 5th, I’ll be in at Beth Israel in Brooklline. First in the ICCU, then the regular cardiac ward for a week or two. Then back home for at least 10 to 12 weeks. No cardiac rehab because I can’t afford it. There’s a $50 per day deductible and essentially, no one I know can afford it. The hospitals and surgeons are well aware of this and don’t require rehab. So I’ll go home.

Assuming the surgery goes well and there are no complications, I should be able to write fairly soon after I’m home. It won’t mean I’m recovered, only that writing is the one thing I can (usually) do even when I’m not exactly up to snuff.

There’s a little more than a month and I hope it’s a good month. I hope all goes well and this surgery that scares the bejeezus out of me will ultimately improve my life. I live — simultaneously — in hope and fear.

Life is like that.

UNDERSTANDING GEN X AND Y … SAY WHAT?

Daily Prompt: Generation XYZ

I’m Gen W. So I assume my parents (may they rest in peace) were Gen V, which generation is pretty much gone. My generation — aka The Baby Boomers — have become … trumpets and drumroll … The Older Generation.

My 6th Grade class.

This is so weird. I was always the youngest kid in my class, the wunderkind, mature for my age. Now I’m just mature. Or at least old. I don’t know about mature. I think I’m still a kid wrapped in a messed-up body. When I look in a mirror, I don’t see the me I am. I see a composite of all the mes I’ve ever been.

Gen X, my son’s group, are now in their late 30s and early to mid 40s. What an odd bunch they are. So many of them grew up convinced they were destined — and deserving — of everything. Some of them got the message that to achieve that glorious destiny, you had to work. A bunch of them, including my kid, didn’t clearly hear that part of the message … or, having heard it, felt they were exempt. Probably my fault. Everything is my fault, right?

I provided a good example. I worked hard and long. The kid’s father worked obsessively. All the adults these Gen X-ers knew as they were growing up worked long hours. We collectively believed in education and work. It would redeem us. We were willing to serve our time as grunts before expecting to be promoted. Yet I remember hearing my son say “I don’t want to waste my life working all the time like you, my father and Garry.” Say what? That was when I knew we had a serious disconnect. Garry was insulted. I was too but hey, he’s my kid. I can’t stay mad.

96-KKCheer-3a

Well, he’s sorry now. A lot more than a dollar short and many years late. The “success will come because I want it” didn’t work out and belated quick-fix education became worthless when the economy collapsed. I tried to warn him. I have friends with similar kids. We all tried.

As for Gen Y, my granddaughter’s age group? They think it’s all about their personal happiness. They are entitled to a stress-free life. Anyone who forces them to do anything which doesn’t give them immediate satisfaction is a bully or an abuser. Not to put too fine a point on it, but they are clueless. It’s scary the nonsense they believe.

Clueless or not, reality will bite them in the ass. We will pass away. So will their parents. They won’t be able to run to mom for comfort when the mean boss tells them they have to work weekends. Or find themselves working a lifetime of minimum wage jobs and living in grinding poverty.

It makes me sad. There are so many who are doomed to disappointment and failure because they don’t get it. It must have been me, us, our generation. We wanted to help them have a good life but somehow omitted the connection to achievement through personal effort and dedication.

Who knew it would backfire in such an awful way?

Other Voices:

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  2. Ethical Professor Boynton (Part 1) | The Jittery Goat
  3. Really! How much more :-) (for my US friends) | Perspectives on life, universe and everything
  4. The younger years | muffinscout
  5. Daily Prompt; Generation XYZ | Journeyman
  6. Internet Monsters: a very Grimm tale… Daily Prompt | alienorajt
  7. Maiden – Mother – Crone – Honoring Lifestages | Shrine of Hecate – Ramblings of a New Age Witch
  8. Daily Prompt: Generation XYZ | Chronicles of an Anglo Swiss
  9. Mentoring: A Strand of Three | Live Life in Crescendo
  10. daily prompt: Generation XYZ | aimanss…
  11. Generation XYZ | Flowers and Breezes
  12. How Young are you? | Cascading Dreams
  13. GEN X VS. GEN ALPHA | DANDELION’S DEN
  14. Why Me vs Me Me Me | Reinvention of Mama
  15. Talking ‘Bout Yer Generation | The Shotgun Girls
  16. Learning from my 4-year-old | A mom’s blog

AN OVER-CROWDED LIFEBOAT

Ouch! That really hurts! My back’s been a mess since I was a kid. Fell off one horse too many. Rebuilt in 1967 — fusion and laminectomy using saws and chisels — long before micro surgery and instrumentation. I’m not special because I deal with pain. I’ve got plenty of company. It’s just sometimes, I feel like I’ve got too much company. We’re all squished together in an over-crowded lifeboat. Sinking. Together.

96-Me-Young-HPCR-1

Me at 20, a year post spinal fusion.

I’ve had a lot of problems with my back over the years. The fusion, which was bone paste made from a piece of my hip, began to disintegrate about 25 years ago, to be replaced by a sheathing of arthritic calcification. That’s not such a bad thing because without the arthritis, I’d (literally) fall apart.

Looking at pictures of me in years gone by, I got to wondering how the long winding road of life landed me here. How did the bright-eyed woman become this creaking achy old thing fighting to keep moving under her own power?

Who is this person?

She doesn’t look or act like me. I can vouch for this because I used to be her, but now I am not at all sure who I am or whose body this is. While I slept, someone slipped in an imposter body. I would jump right on the imposter theory except being me is not something any sane person would want. If I had a say in the matter, I would be healthier, wealthier and younger. Some other body, but I’d keep the brain. I like that piece of me.

Life changes, sometimes in a split seconds.

stages of spondylolythesis

I’m grade 4, considered a miracle I can walk. It’s only part of the problem. That’s the way it usually works. You don’t have a single problem, you have a basket of related problems.

Remember Christopher Reeve? One minute, he was a big, handsome, strapping movie star. A dreadful split second later, he was someone else.

My down hill slide occurred at the pace at which bones and joints calcify. I broke my back when I was a kid. I was reconstructed when I was 19. For the next 35 years, I refused to pay any attention to my spine. I was not going to be disabled. Not me. It was mind over matter and I am strong.

Turns out, mind over matter only takes you so far. Seven years ago, I began to have trouble walking. My balance became erratic. I lost sensation in my feet and miscellaneous reflexes disappeared. I went to doctors, orthopedic hot shots. All of them said I need a new spinal fusion, the old one having fallen apart over the long years. Diagnosis: Horrible spine. Solution: New fusion in which I get screwed together using metal rods. After surgery, I would be in even more pain than now, but my spine would be stable. Say what? This surgery would be the 21st century version of the surgery I had in 1967.

I said Hell no and took my case to the top spine guy in Boston, the Supreme Court of spinal diagnosis.

He said I don’t need surgery. More to the point, he said the surgery wouldn’t solve my problems. Now I heard: “Your back has got you through this far, it’ll take you the rest of the way. Pain control, gentle exercise, and recognize your limits. Don’t do anything stupid.” Like fall off a horse? Lift heavy packages?

There are a lot of members of the back pain club. After you join the club, you usually get a lifetime membership. I finally discovered I have a problem I can’t fix. No amount of persistence, research, medical attention or cleverness is going to make it go away. So I’ve designed the world to make my back happy. We have a back-friendly home. From our adjustable bed, to the reclining sofa, our place is kind to spines.

75-GoodNight-CR-66

There’s no moral to this story. It’s just life. If you don’t die young, odds are you hurt. The years roll on, pain gets worse.

I’ve had to accept reality but I don’t have to like it. Sooner or later we all face an intractable problem. Or several. It’s a nasty shock, especially if you’ve always believed you are unstoppable.

When you hit that wall, I recommend very comfortable furniture.

WRITING FOR THE RIGHT REASONS

I wrote a lot of posts before getting Freshly Pressed.

In the beginning, I didn’t think about it because I didn’t know about it. After I became aware that such a thing existed, I figured I’d get noticed eventually. My turn would come. I’m insecure about a lot of things, but not about writing, probably the result of doing it every day for 50 years. Eventually you become comfortable and know you’re really a writer. You have proved it to everyone, even yourself.

freshly-pressed-circle3x3So I waited for that email to come. As almost everyone I knew seemed to be getting awarded — except me — I started to get worried. Then hurt. And I started to brood on injustice which is always a bad sign for me … a very bad sign.

Finally, after airing my grievance — mostly in comments on other peoples blogs about how bad they felt about being overlooked … I took a deep breath and realized I was being stupid and self-destructive. I was letting this thing get to me. It was sucking the fun out of blogging. I’d become focused on winning a prize rather than enjoying writing.

I don’t even remember when I knew I was I writer. It wasn’t something I decided. Writing was part of me as long as I can remember. It has been my therapy. Catharsis. My hobby, my profession, my dreams. The best part of me has always come through when I write. I was letting this thing … this award I didn’t get … take that away from me.

I went cold turkey on expecting recognition. I didn’t stop wanting it. I can’t help wanting recognition. It’s part of that type A personality thing, the competitive piece of me. And I’m sure a little teensy part of my brain nurtured an itsy bitsy hope it might yet happen, but to the degree I could control my feelings, I quit thinking about it, hoping for it, expecting it.

Most important, I gave up being angry. Because holding on to anger is bad for me. It messes with my head while leaving the object of my anger unscathed. It’s one of the few life lessons I’ve learned and accepted. I can’t go there.

I’m glad I kept writing. Most of all, I’m glad I didn’t keep writing only to win a prize, but because I love to write.

A thousand or so posts later, I got the letter.

There is a moral to my tale. Do what you love. Maybe the rest will follow. Maybe not. But when you’re doing what you love, you are a winner.

And the post that finally did it is: GONZO GEORDI HAD AN AX

ANOTHER MISERABLE YEAR

Let’s talk about funny. Like who makes us laugh. Do happy people make us laugh? Are comedians people whose lives are running smoothly, easily?

No way!

Funny people have problems. The funniest people are often depressed. Yet somehow, they can see a sparkle amidst the darkness.

Laughter is not so much a celebration of good times as a shield against despair. Humor is borne of irony, the realization that life is not merely imperfect, but frequently dreadful. So we turn our disasters into laughter because the alternative is endless weeping and wailing.

mistakesdemotivator
Another demotivational poster from one of my favorite sites, Despair.com.

The first time my world crashed and burned, I walked away from a dead marriage, gave everything to my ex and moved to another country. The joke was on me. I promptly married a guy so much worse I get dizzy thinking about it 30 years later. When that fell apart — though it lasted longer than it should have because I wouldn’t admit what a horrible mistake I’d made — I staggered — bloody, dazed and penniless back to the US.

When I finally stopped feeling like I’d gone through a wood chipper, I married Garry which I should done in the first place, except he hadn’t asked. Minor detail.

All that seemingly pointless pain and suffering was not for nothing. Stories of hideous mistakes and horrendous outcomes are the stuff of terrific after-dinner conversation. A few drinks can transform them into hilarity. Misery fuels humor. It’s a fact. Calamities, crises and disasters are high comedy.

Funny movies are not about people having fun. They’re about people in trouble, with everything going wrong, lives in ruins. The difference between a comedy and a tragedy is the ending. Tragedies usually end with a pile of corpses; comedies (usually) don’t. Otherwise, it’s just a matter of timing and style.

Funny stories weren’t funny when they happened. Now they’re funny. After I was told I had cancer in not one, but both breasts (they were having a two-for-one special at the Dana-Farber), I had them removed and replaced by silicon implants, but stopped short of adding fake nipples. Previous surgeries having left me with no naval, I now present myself as a space alien. You don’t believe me? It’s true.

I have a tee-shirt that say “Yes, they are FAKE. My real ones tried to kill me.” It’s a killer at parties and is high point of my cancer experience.

Fake breasts

When life goes to hell in the proverbial handbasket, folks who were sort of friends eye you with suspicion. Is bad luck contagious?. But there’s also a light whiff of satisfaction. They wouldn’t be rude enough to say so, but they’re overjoyed it happened to you, not them. Sorry about your life, really (furtive, smug smirk).

If you are a writer, out of the wreckage will come a book or at least a great post for your blog. See? It wasn’t for nothing!

Our personal traumas are collateral damage in a Darwinian battle of the fittest to survive. No one gets through life unscathed. Mindful of whatever tragedy lurks just over your personal horizon, why not prepare some clever repartee? You can give it a test drive at the next get together with your more successful pals. It will give you something to look forward to. And, as a bonus, you will really appreciate the irony when your friends’ lives go to pieces later on. You’ll be able to give them great advice on how to survive their personal Apocalypse! Cool!

So no matter how horrible things are right now, don’t worry. You will stop bleeding and screaming. Eventually. Black depression will ebb. You won’t always feel you can’t breathe. That crushing weight on your chest will be replaced by a permanent sense of panic and mild hysteria you will call “normal.”

Start laughing right this minute.  No tears allowed. Tragedy is hilarious. Heaven may be droll, but Hell?  Everyone is yukking it up down there.  Remember, it’s the first month of a new year. A fresh slate.  Anything could — and probably will — happen.

A BOUNTIFUL LIFE

A short story of gratefulness from Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

Max had to get an early start on Monday.  Three times a month it was the most important day of the week and he did not want to be late.  It was quite the walk to the Methodist church but he felt he was up to it.  Anyway, he did not want to ride part of the way on the bus as that seemed a waste of money.  If he had a good haul, however, he would definitely consider public transportation on the way back.  Even though Max was not a Methodist, he was headed to the Methodist church.

Next door to the church stood a small wooden building.  It was painted grey, like the church building, and it seemed too small for most uses.  No one recalls why the building was there originally, but now it served as the neighborhood food pantry.  Three churches participated in the collection of goods.  Each took 1 Sunday a month to collect canned goods and non-perishable items at their services and then bring them to the pantry.  The Methodist church got the honor of running the pantry, because it had the extra space and the Reverend Lawrence J. Shepherd had the time three mornings a week to hand out goods to those in need.  The fourth and sometimes fifth Sunday of the month found no collections and the food pantry was likely to run out of food.  In the final weeks of the month the Reverend Shepherd asked his own congregation to consider bringing in items again.  If there was a fifth Sunday in the month, the good reverend was practically begging.  He would call local stores asking for assistance.  It was the small shops that would donate, never the big super markets.

UU doorIt was a good plan to be at the food pantry at 9 am when the Reverend came to unlock the door.  It was also a good idea to bring a sturdy bag with you, one that was good for carrying goods a long distance.  If you had no bag, the reverend always had some used plastic bags from the markets and the donated supplies.  People seemed more willing to recycle their old plastic bags then to actually give food or money, but the reverend was thankful for anything that would help him out.

“Good morning, reverend,” Max said in a cheerful voice.  Max always had a smile on his face and seemed to absolutely light up when he ran into anyone he knew.  People were as glad to see this happy person as he was to see them.

“Hello Max,” the reverend said.  “I think we have some good items this week.”  That pleased Max very much.  He felt quite fortunate to be getting good food.  It was not something that Max could afford on his own.

When Max was pushed out of his job at retirement age, he had little savings.  Almost half of his fixed income went to pay his rent.  The utilities and regular monthly expenses took about a third.  He only filled prescriptions that were of low-cost and skipped the others in order to stretch his funds.  The little that was left did not exactly cover the food costs.  That is why he saw the food pantry as a blessing that was bestowed upon the neighborhood in general and himself in particular.  He just could not imagine why he was so lucky to have the pantry.  He knew other neighborhoods did not have one.

After the reverend had gathered up a nice selection for Max, he handed him back his bag filled with goods.  Max was not one of those people who asked for specific things from the shelves behind the counter.  He was pleased with whatever he was handed.  “I guess we will see you next week, Max,” Shepherd said.  “Bless you.”

“Bless you too, reverend,” Max replied happily as he reached out and shook the reverend’s hand, just as if he was shaking God’s own hand right there in that little building next to God’s house.  Of course, it was not the house of Max’s God, but he figured they all pretty much belonged to the same supreme being.

Despite a brisk north wind blowing right at Max, he bravely made his return trip on foot.  He did not feel that being handed some excellent cans and boxes was any reason to turn around and throw away good money.  His fingers and toes were rather numb when Max got in the small apartment and finally sat down.  He would make the trip again the following week and the week after.  The reverend only allowed you to come once a week.  Few showed up on the weeks when there had been no collection of goods that Sunday.

Each Sunday Max made his way to his own church.  They participated in the food collection once a month and did their best to minister to the needs of the parish poor.  After such a fine selection of goods that Monday, Max felt it was very important to show up at church on time the following Sunday.  He greeted everyone with a smile as he walked in.  He paused at the back of the church where there was a small safe.  In the top was a slot to receive donations for the St. Vincent DePaul Society for the poor.  Max reached into his pocket and found a quarter, dime, 2 nickels and a penny.  He dropped them into the old safe.  Even though his coat and gloves were given to him by the Society, Max did not consider himself one of the poor.  Instead, he felt obligated to help out if he could.  He helped on the coat drive, the Christmas tree sale, the donut sale and other activities to benefit the poor.  Why should he not help, when he had so much?

As he moved up the center aisle, Max spotted an empty pew.  This meant he could get a nice seat on the aisle where he could look right down the middle and see the service.  He stepped in, knelt down and gave thanks for the bounty in his life.

DAILY PROMPT: A COZY WAY TO LIVE

75-OfficeHDR-CR-2Daily Prompt: Style Icon

Style. My style.

The idea that I have a style would probably wring guffaws of hysterical laughter from most of the people who know me. I’m such an anarchist.

But wait … I see a common thread. It’s a slender thread, but it’s there.

I want to be comfortable. From head, including brain-space, to feet, which scream for cozy, my goal is to be comfortable and at ease. To which end everything in my home, from my bed to the reclining love seat, is without any style at all … except it is really soft, forgiving, back-friendly and comfy.

All my clothing is loose. My car is boxy, easy to get in and out. My desk is messy and we don’t even want to think about my closets! My cameras are lightweight.

I cook meals that are easy to eat and even easier to clean up after. All things added together, I guess it could be considered a style. Mine.

What do you think?

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